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Vol 12 - A Rising Tide Lifts All Wonks
Episode 1212th December 2023 • WonkyFolk • CharterFolk
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Greetings, CharterFolk!

 This week, Andy and I are talking with David Griffith, Associate Director of Research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, regarding The Education Competition Index: Quantifying competitive pressure in America’s 125 largest school districts, which indicates the death of traditional public schools has been greatly exaggerated.

 For those of you who would prefer a video recording, we provide a link to YouTube as well. 

This week some of the topics include:

  • Introductions (00:01)
  • A brief description of the study, its findings, and their significance (04:07)
  • The effects of competition generally (06:54)
  • Evolution of the role of competition as advocacy battles intensify and polarization increases (14:54)
  • Other creative ideas to increase competition (16:10)
  • Interesting findings on variation in competition by demographics of students (24:46)
  • Thoughts regarding the ability of new ESAs and voucher programs to increase competition (31:01)
  • Upcoming Fordham studies (39:42)

 Notes:

 You can use the following links to access:

 ·      The Education Competition Index: Quantifying competitive pressure in America’s 125 largest school districts

https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/research/education-competition-index-quantifying-competitive-pressure-americas-125-largest

As ever, I’m eager to hear feedback and suggestions from CharterFolk. So, if you have a chance to listen to the discussion and want to drop me a line with some thoughts, feel free to reach me at jed@charterfolk.org.

If you haven’t yet heard or seen previous volumes of WonkyFolk, you can access them here.

Meanwhile, I thank you once again for being part of the CharterFolk community and for the efforts you are making to improve educational opportunities in our country.

Transcripts

Jed:

Hey, Andy, how you doing?

Andy:

Hey, Jed, what's up?

Jed:

Not a whole lot, you know, in my deck of the world woods, but there's

Jed:

sure a lot going on in education policy and charter school policy.

Jed:

Liked your post today on the latest piece of scores and all those things,

Jed:

lots of stuff we could dive into.

Andy:

You're dating us already for listeners.

Andy:

So we record.

Andy:

We're recording this on a Friday.

Andy:

It'll come out sometime next week.

Andy:

So who knows what'll happen between now and then.

Andy:

So you have to take everything with that, with that caveat.

Jed:

But, I thought that maybe we would dive in today having a visitor

Jed:

from Fordham, who's just finished a great new piece on the effect of

Jed:

competition in the charter school space.

Jed:

So any other introductory comments you want at the end,

Jed:

you want to just dive into stuff.

Andy:

Well, if I don't think that's a good idea, it's a little late now, right?

Jed:

Yeah, stop it.

Jed:

Stop.

Jed:

If you've got something else on your mind, whatever I, you know,

Andy:

No, I think it's actually, it's a really interesting study.

Andy:

It's good to have a guest, although people seem to really like the last, I got a

Andy:

lot of feedback on the last podcast.

Andy:

But I think it's great to have a guest and I'm super glad that this particular

Andy:

person was able to take time of the study just came out this week, was able to take

Andy:

time out of their busy week to join us.

Jed:

Let's bring David in.

Jed:

David Griffith is joining us, who has written several reports now for Fordham.

Jed:

David, thank you for being with us today.

David:

Hey guys, thanks so much for having me.

Andy:

And David, that is a fantastic house you have.

Andy:

What is Mike paying you guys over there now?

David:

This is my whole house in DC.

David:

Everything that you see is a hundred feet away.

Jed:

Well, I already asked him before we started recording whether he

Jed:

plays piano and he doesn't, right?

Jed:

So, that piano looks like it needs to be used by somebody in the family there.

Andy:

That makes two of us.

Andy:

Do you play an instrument, Jed?

Jed:

I was just saying that my grandmother sent me her grand in the

Jed:

last year of her life, remembering that when I was eight years old, I played

Jed:

piano and not knowing that I'd given up piano playing for like 25 years.

Jed:

So I got it and I felt so shamed by it.

Jed:

I got some lessons and now I play well enough to irritate the neighbors.

Andy:

That's fantastic, though.

Andy:

My wife's a very good musician.

Andy:

She's in a band and so forth and like.

Andy:

But I am, she's one of these very musical people.

Andy:

I am not.

Andy:

So, like, when we do, like, our concerts and stuff, I do the business and logistics

Andy:

side because I, you know, everyone's saying, you talk to musicians, they're

Andy:

like, it's not true that everyone can't be a musician or has two left feet or

Andy:

whatever, but I actually think it is.

Andy:

I'm living proof.

Andy:

My lived experience is that's actually true.

David:

I'm good at listening to music, guys.

Andy:

Yeah, exactly.

Andy:

Consuming it.

Jed:

Well, I could go on on piano playing forever, but let's dive into,

Jed:

you know, David, your new report.

Jed:

Look, I've just liked how Fordham has kept the All Boats Rising

Jed:

story a central piece that you're coming back to again and again.

Jed:

If I recall, Your all boats rising or something titled something similar

Jed:

to that came out in like 2019.

Jed:

I think it was a great piece.

Jed:

I am constantly reminding charter folk that, you know, we need to be

Jed:

able to talk about how all of public education is improving as we grow.

Jed:

It's so important that I think the other side knows that the counter

Jed:

narrative is their most valuable one.

Jed:

I think in Massachusetts, when question two was voted down, basically the voters,

Jed:

after the fact, we did an autopsy.

Jed:

They bought that charter schools in Massachusetts were actually doing a

Jed:

better job with kids, but they had been convinced that the growth of charter

Jed:

schools somehow makes all other schools worse, and so they voted it down.

Jed:

And for me, all of our advocacy has to pass the question two test.

Jed:

Yes, we're doing a great job with kids, but as we're growing, everything

Jed:

is getting better and the competition piece is one of these, these

Jed:

ideas about how things get better.

Jed:

And now you've come out with this new report, which really focuses

Jed:

on, focuses in on competition.

Jed:

Why don't you share with our listeners to begin with, you know, what's the study?

Jed:

What are the main findings and what you think the significance is?

David:

Yeah, well, thanks so much for that sort of segue and

David:

laying the table like that.

David:

The gist of the study is that we wanted to look as comprehensively as possible at the

David:

level of competition that school districts around the country are facing and in

David:

particular the big school districts and there's obviously a lot of overlap between

David:

competition and school choice, but we chose competition as our lens because it's

David:

very very hard to quantify school choice comprehensively as i'm sure the two of you

David:

know there are so many different kinds.

David:

We don't have sort of universal access to student level data that

David:

allows us to follow kids, you know, wherever they're going.

David:

So basically you can't quantify school choice comprehensively,

David:

but if you limit yourself to places, you know, to homeschooling.

David:

to charter schools and to private schools, which are sort of these truly independent

David:

institutions that are not creatures of the district then you can make a run at it.

David:

And so that's what we tried to do.

David:

To my knowledge, nobody has really tried to do this before.

David:

But we tried to tell the story in the 125 biggest districts in the country

David:

of how many kids were not attending district schools, how that number varied

David:

depending on which group you belong to and how it had changed over time.

David:

And there are four big findings, but I think the one that I don't

David:

want to overlook is the first one, and that is basically, that the

David:

death of traditional public schools has been greatly exaggerated.

David:

There is this media narrative, and I identify center left, but it

David:

is a media narrative, right, that public schools are dying, right?

David:

And as with so many stories, there's sort of a grain of truth to that, right?

David:

But it also is exaggerated.

David:

And so when you look at the biggest school districts in the country, despite

David:

the growth of charter schools, despite the growth of voucher programs, despite

David:

the growth of homeschooling, you know, your typical big district, 80 percent

David:

of kids are still, still, still, attending traditional public schools.

David:

And so all of the sort of Sturm and Drang that surrounds school choice is really

David:

about the move from about 15 percent to about 20 percent of kids who are not in

David:

your standard issue district run school, so it's just, you know, it's overblown.

David:

And if you take the view that competition is good, that choice is good then

David:

we still have a lot of work to do.

Andy:

Okay.

Andy:

So, staying on that for a second, I do think that's really interesting.

Andy:

We'll get like, but let's just stay on that thought for a second.

Andy:

I think a parlor game you're hearing more and more with this, because you do

Andy:

have some places that are now saturated with choice and people are like, Oh

Andy:

my God, this guy's going to fall.

Andy:

But like among like serious analysts, a parlor game that you hear a lot is okay.

Andy:

Like in a really saturated environment.

Andy:

So with like ESAs, charters, some significant penetration of private

Andy:

and parochial schools, like what number do you actually expect to see?

Andy:

And if you ask sort of, you ask that question on Twitter, people are like,

Andy:

Oh my God, public schools are dying.

Andy:

only 10 percent of the kids will be left.

Andy:

But like in reality.

Andy:

People who study this are giving really pretty high numbers, which doesn't

Andy:

mean that's not a problem from a school finance standpoint or won't be disruptive,

Andy:

but it's not the bottom falling out.

Andy:

So say, just say a little bit more about that cause I think that's

Andy:

like just a super important piece of context here just to start with.

David:

Yeah.

David:

So let me just say, first of all, I don't have the magic number, right?

David:

I don't think we really know how many parents are truly, truly dissatisfied

David:

with their traditional public school to the point where they would walk?

David:

And I think, I think the answer really, it depends so much on context, right?

David:

It depends on, like, are the alternatives fully funded, right?

David:

Or are you going to take a hit in your pocketbook, right?

David:

I mean, is there a, is there sort of a culture of school choice that has

David:

existed for a decade and a half, right?

David:

I mean, to some people, the idea is scary or strange, right?

David:

But it's not to people in Arizona, right?

David:

It's not to people in DC or Louisiana.

David:

So there's a sort of acculturation piece to it as well.

David:

just to sort of put some context on it though.

David:

I mean, I think folks in the field understand that at this point, New Orleans

David:

is for all practical purposes, right?

David:

A hundred percent school choice, whatever you want to call it.

David:

After that, right, you've got, uh, D.

David:

C.

David:

which is maybe at about 50%, right?

David:

Detroit, San Antonio is higher than people think.

David:

But your standard, your standard district is still somewhere in

David:

the low 20s or the teens, right?

David:

And I personally, I just find it hard to believe that if you really

David:

put all schools or all options on an equal playing field, right?

David:

That 80 percent of parents would pick, you know, their sort of district run school.

David:

if charters had full access to facilities funds, right?

David:

If, you know, per people funding were identical, if you had sort of a good

David:

centralized enrollment system that was easy to use that didn't, you know,

David:

sort of implicitly preference, just doing what everybody else was doing.

David:

I just find it very hard to believe that 20 percent is the ceiling.

David:

So I don't know what the ceiling is but I don't think it's 20%.

Andy:

So I think I get another way to say it might be like, if you have that off of

Andy:

that environment, enrollment will be less than it is now, but it will probably not

Andy:

be as catastrophic as the naysayers claim.

David:

Yeah.

David:

So look, there are some, I think there are some hard, like, let's be real here.

David:

Right.

David:

Transportation is an issue, right?

David:

When you get out of the ivory tower and you talk to like actual parents,

David:

they don't particularly want to drive an hour and a half across.

David:

town just to go to a school that maybe scores at the 62nd percentile

David:

for school growth instead of the 60, you know, instead of the 60th, right?

David:

Like nobody's going to do that.

David:

And so I, you know, I do think that the sort of end state may have a fair number

David:

of traditional public schools in it.

David:

Um, but I don't think it's 80%.

David:

Yeah.

David:

Okay.

David:

That's good.

David:

I don't want to, I don't want to believe, but I think it's this important

David:

context because This debate can quickly get, like, you know, unhinged

David:

or hysterical around, like, school choice, and I do, I don't know that

David:

we're playing between the 40 yard lines, but we're definitely not playing

David:

between the, you know, the whole field.

Jed:

David, can you talk a little bit more about the effect of competition?

Jed:

This was a part of the the study and you basically did a survey of the field

Jed:

and you showed that the vast majority of research seems to suggest that competition

Jed:

is in fact, as common sense would suggest a positive force within public education.

Jed:

But I think it's 1 that we have to keep revisiting because there are

Jed:

some people out there that would identify competition within public

Jed:

education as being the big boogeyman that we want to try and keep out.

Jed:

However, we possibly can.

Andy:

Just quickly, I think that's really important.

Andy:

I want to talk about that real quick for me when I had a chance to read it yet.

Andy:

Like when I'm at the top 125 and so forth, just give us, I mean, I think people think

Andy:

of like a New York, LA, Chicago, but a lot of these districts are not necessarily.

Andy:

So just.

Andy:

people haven't had a chan just kind of understand what are we talking about here?

David:

Yeah, so Colombus makes the cut, right?

David:

So it's true, but there's a very quick falling off after the top 5 to 10

David:

districts start talking about a lot came.

Andy:

That's the least we

David:

He went patrolling and I cannot escape from football talk.

David:

Yeah, I mean, so we're talking about a lot of like medium sized districts, right?

David:

Inner ring suburbs like Arlington, Fairfax, you know, Wake, it's

David:

not necessarily Chicago, right?

David:

So, but it's not small towns either.

Andy:

Great.

Andy:

And then obviously to Jed, so the Jed's question, if I had a competition and

Andy:

you guys have a lot, the demographic breakouts, I think are super interesting.

David:

Yeah.

David:

Well, let me just, let me speak a little bit to just the research on competition.

David:

I like any literature, right?

David:

It is nuanced when you really start to dig into it.

David:

So I will try to summarize it without doing too much violence

David:

to that or going on for an hour.

David:

Overall, the research is positive.

David:

Somewhat interestingly, at least to me, it's actually more positive

David:

for vouchers and for private school choice than it is for charters.

David:

And I think there's a reason for that, and, or at least this is

David:

where my gut feeling is on it.

David:

I think that there are probably some transition costs associated with

David:

dropping an entirely new school into a community that hasn't had it before.

David:

And so I think, you know, when you're talking about like, a sort of a

David:

smaller suburban, or rural district, there could be some transition costs.

David:

But I think over a 10 year time period, right?

David:

I think, which is kind of what many of the studies are looking at.

David:

I think there's just no question that competition on average is positive.and

David:

I think it's also really important to just note, like people, you say

David:

competition and people, you know, they picture like, I don't know, some

David:

sort of cutthroat test factory, right?

David:

But there's no reason that you only have to compete.

David:

over tests, right?

David:

I mean, you can compete to see how safe your school is, right?

David:

You can compete to see how nurturing it is, right?

David:

You can compete to see who has the most fun recess, right?

David:

So that's kind of where I always start, is like, look, when we talk

David:

about competition, Rationally, most parents, I mean, most parents do

David:

not care about test scores, right?

David:

What they care about are these other things, right?

David:

Is it a kind of place where you'd want to send your kid, right?

David:

And so rationally, when you're in competition, right, with

David:

another school, you should want to make your school attractive.

David:

Based on those metrics, right?

David:

You should want to make it, a place that anyone would want

David:

to send their kid, right?

David:

And so, I think it's important to try to get past , this sort of very

David:

sterile view of competition as just kind of inherently dehumanizing.

David:

I don't think that's true at all.

Jed:

I think I bring some advocacy lens to this that may not be right to spend

Jed:

too much time on for this conversation, but something I think is a reality

Jed:

is that in some, at least some places, um, where the establishment has huge,

Jed:

huge power, they essentially believe that they don't have to compete.

Jed:

That they can literally just stop.

Jed:

So when a UTLA strike happens in Los Angeles, they can basically say,

Jed:

we refuse to compete and we got the political power to make sure that there

Jed:

will be no further competition here.

Jed:

And so, you know, I think it's a different orientation that a lot of, you know,

Jed:

these establishment protectors are taking at this point, which is we refuse to

Jed:

compete with you and we're not going to.

Jed:

And until we can, like, figure out a theory of change.

Jed:

That again still results in, you know, all boats rising where we

Jed:

don't necessarily have a cooperative partner who's willing to like compete

Jed:

in a very traditional type sense.

Jed:

you know, I think our world is not going to have the bearings that we

Jed:

need to win the advocacy fights of the next, you know, next decade.

Andy:

And this is hard to do, right?

Andy:

So like.

Andy:

The tie the last part of the conversation this part saying you said

Andy:

like it's new entries and so forth.

Andy:

It's hard.

Andy:

We're working Bella is working in Texas.

Andy:

We're creating 25, working with existing and new providers.

Andy:

There are 25 new charters.

Andy:

It'll be either a, you know, A or B charters and their accountability system.

Andy:

And it's just, it's a ton of work.

Andy:

I think there's also like, this idea that it's like.

Andy:

Even this far in that it's like easy to open schools and all this.

Andy:

And so like getting to competition and building like

Andy:

high quality schools is hard.

Andy:

People respond differently to competition.

Andy:

I mean, you, you were saying the literature is complicated and I do, I

Andy:

think it's the idea that schools just immediately respond, like this is a

Andy:

very political context, which I think points to the third thing that I wanted

Andy:

to ask you about is the politics.

Andy:

So like I looked and not surprisingly.

Andy:

Schools in Virginia don't fare well on that.

Andy:

Cause we don't like, Virginia's not a strong school choice state.

Andy:

There was an article in the times recently that was like, basically

Andy:

saying like if Republicans had done well in the, in the Virginia's midterm

Andy:

election, like there was something gonna be a lot of choice, which is just.

Andy:

It's one of those things people say, but it's actually not true.

Andy:

If you understand the political demographics of the state,

Andy:

Texas is the same way.

Andy:

They've had this huge fight over school choice.

Andy:

So like, what are your inferences just in terms of like States you would

Andy:

think would be stronger on choice, but are simply where it's like,

Andy:

it's still like a huge uphill fight.

David:

Yeah, well, I don't have all the answers, let me just say that right

David:

up front, I completely agree in one sense, like, there's this sort of mystery

David:

when you look at the states that have seen a lot of charter growth or a lot

David:

of vouchers, I mean, it's not obviously red states or blue states, right?

David:

I mean, the last states that don't have, charter schools, for example,

David:

are places like Nebraska and Montana, and so those are not blue states.

David:

So what's going on?

David:

I think, I, I'm not sure I want to tackle that so much as, as I want

David:

to address your question of like how we should view strategy and the

David:

fight moving forward and where we should really be putting our eggs.

David:

My personal take, right.

David:

Is that.

David:

Moving forward, it is largely a defensive effort, and this may not be

David:

true in Virginia, sorry, but outside, in other places, you take Texas, right?

David:

Texas has a pretty strong charter school law at this point.

David:

It has an enormous Latino population, right?

David:

And if you look at the numbers, that is the place where the saturation

David:

narrative has the least traction, right?

David:

I mean, it's just obvious that there is room for growth there.

David:

And so what do we need to do in Texas?

David:

Well, mostly we need to prevent any legislative rollback, right?

David:

And we need to keep doing what we're doing and the charter of school

David:

movement will continue to grow.

David:

And so that's sort of, It's a boring answer, right?

David:

In some sense, but one of my pet peeves is the way that the funding community

David:

and the reform community and all these people who frankly, make money by

David:

talking, right, tend to be attracted to the next shiny thing, right?

David:

When in reality, the most important thing we can do might be to, you

David:

know, just keep doing what we're doing, right, and, and execute.

David:

And so I, that's sort of, for me, part of the point of the report, part of where I

David:

come from to this, is like, look, we made a lot of progress between 2010 and 2020.

David:

And then all hell broke loose, right, and we had this sort of world

David:

changing pandemic, and everybody, you know, has a different haircut now.

David:

Right?

David:

And we're all trying to get our bearings again.

David:

And it's understandable that we've sort of lost the plot a

David:

little bit as a result of that.

David:

But guess what?

David:

We made a lot of progress between 2010 and 2020.

David:

And let's get back to that, right?

David:

Let's just keep doing the thing that we were doing because it's not about some,

David:

you know, great innovative new idea.

David:

It's just about doing the things that we know work.

David:

Right?

David:

And so that's why I personally come from, there are some big States

David:

where there's a lot of headroom.

David:

And if we can just, keep things from going off track, I think

David:

we can keep making progress.

Andy:

Well, that's basically one of Jen.

Andy:

That's one of our themes.

Andy:

There's always new opportunities waiting around, around the

Andy:

corner, waiting to meet you.

Andy:

So, but talk a little bit more, if you would about like

Andy:

strategy then for advocates.

Andy:

So you're saying execution, the forward of the report talks about, well, okay.

Andy:

Like this is probably a roadmap, but like, if you're thinking in terms of

Andy:

advocacy, which obviously, you know, Jed thinks about all the time, like

Andy:

maybe these states that are in these places that are sort of deserts, they're

Andy:

deserts for a reason, and so you ought to be doubling down on the places with

Andy:

the strong laws and that your strategy should be going to places where there's

Andy:

a more fertile opportunity, or should it be, okay, this is a roadmap to places

Andy:

where there's not a lot of competition, particularly, I don't want to lose, I want

Andy:

to come back to some of the demographic stuff, particularly for kids who often

Andy:

are most underserved by schools today.

Andy:

So that's that is the place to go have that fight.

David:

Yeah, I think you can argue it either way.

David:

I think the most obvious opportunities are in sort of districts that

David:

are sort of school choice deserts within states that have strong laws.

David:

So, you know, I mean, personally, I was surprised when I looked at

David:

Arizona, for example, I my sort of in the back of my head, right?

David:

I'm always seeing that long list of school choice programs in Arizona.

David:

I just assume Arizona is super saturated.

David:

It's not clear that it is.

David:

If you look at the number, right, if you actually look at the

David:

numbers, it's not clear that it is.

David:

And I think that's probably also true of places like Florida

David:

that are growing so quickly.

David:

It's like, there's no way that the school choice movement could possibly keep up.

David:

Right.

David:

I think there are a lot of sort of hidden, I don't want to call them hidden

David:

gems, but I think there are a lot of places that we've overlooked particularly

David:

in sort of inner ring suburbs that are, there's plenty of headroom left

David:

and I, I do, I think it's the places where, choice is, um, happening, but

David:

it's not happening everywhere and it's not happening as much as it could.

Andy:

Jed, what about you?

Andy:

Let's turn, let's turn the tables.

Andy:

That's the question.

Jed:

Well, I mean, look, I think that the story in places like Texas, where

Jed:

people presume that that everything is rosy for charter schools, that

Jed:

is actually not been the case.

Jed:

And they have struggled to get new charters approved at the state board and

Jed:

they've had cities that have been blocking the building of new school buildings

Jed:

and the association tries to run charter friendly legislation in the state capital.

Jed:

And who is it that kills it, but 25 Republicans.

Jed:

So they had to build the political strength, and they changed, you

Jed:

know, who, what those Republicans.

Jed:

We're in the legislature and now they're able, you know, to get bills through the

Jed:

legislature and they're, and they've also won elections at the state board race.

Jed:

So, yes, I think Texas is perhaps ready to step into that space where we can

Jed:

have the pace of growth that I think parents actually demand but it requires

Jed:

diligence, even in the red states.

Jed:

And when we talk about Arizona, I mean, Arizona is fascinating . They projected

Jed:

that their voucher program was going to cost 65 million bucks a year, and now it's

Jed:

projected at 900 million, 900 million.

Jed:

That's how many additional people.

Jed:

Now, some of it is just the people that were already in private

Jed:

school are just getting a subsidy and all that kind of piece.

Jed:

But, you know, I think we see that, you know, there are a

Jed:

huge, there's huge demand there.

Jed:

The question is, can we get the breakthrough, you know, policy

Jed:

changes that we want and then do those policy changes actually

Jed:

increase competition and choice?

Jed:

Because you could argue that hey you let universal vouchers happen, but

Jed:

people can top it off with you know additional tuition payments and they

Jed:

can screen out special ed kids like they can in arizona and they're going

Jed:

to screen out low performing kids.

Jed:

Well, You know, it may very well be that the kids that were most focused

Jed:

on getting better opportunities to are actually going to be given new

Jed:

choice and new competition with the new things that we're bringing forward.

Andy:

Let's stay on that because I thought that was some of

Andy:

those interesting overlays.

Andy:

You did, David.

Andy:

Like looking at the demographics.

Andy:

I think one of the things that really came through, you know,

Andy:

it's another one of these places.

Andy:

And there are way too many of them where the rhetoric around the

Andy:

sector and all these debates is like equity and equity commitments.

Andy:

And then you look at how these policies play out and you're like

Andy:

the kids who need this the most.

Andy:

So in particular, you know, low income kids, black kids, Hispanic kids, who

Andy:

are most underserved special ed kids, as well, as Jed mentioned aren't

Andy:

actually seeing the benefits of this.

Andy:

And it seemed like there's a lot of places where there's a lot of

Andy:

competition for upmarket white kids.

Andy:

And so, like, talk about that.

Andy:

Because that is given, like the rhetoric we hear from all the foundations

Andy:

and what everybody cares about.

Andy:

And then you see this disconnect.

Andy:

It's curious.

David:

Yeah, well, I think there is a sense that with the growth of

David:

like the charter school movement and private school choice that

David:

we've equalized the playing field,

David:

and we haven't.

David:

That's the short version.

David:

If you look in the typical big district, you see a very old, very familiar story,

David:

which is that white kids have more access to alternatives, in large part

David:

because they have more access to private schools, one assumes, because they

David:

have more, wealth or income, right?

David:

And this is where the school choice movement gets a lot of

David:

its moral force, and it's a deep and powerful and important point.

David:

And I don't want to oversell it because we have made progress.

David:

And actually, if you look at figure one in the report, you can see that we are

David:

close nationally, to actually closing the gap between white kids and black kids.

David:

But then when you look in within these big districts, it actually looks different.

David:

And I'd actually want to dig into that more, cause I thought that was sort

David:

of intriguing, but when you look in the big districts often, you see that,

David:

that it's not, you know, we haven't achieved anything resembling equality,

David:

but a picture is worth a thousand words.

David:

That's part of why we did the report, honestly, is because you can

David:

say this, but people don't really get it unless they see the image.

David:

And so, you know, I would encourage people to go on the report page.

David:

I think I'd be remiss if I didn't tout the report a little bit, we have these great

David:

graphics, and they allow you to look at every big district in the country, for

David:

every major demographic group, and you can see exactly what I'm talking about.

David:

And you can see how, you know, access to sort of alternative schools either

David:

has or hasn't, been equalized over time.

David:

And you can even look within particular groups.

Jed:

Do you have any suggestions, David, on how we should be thinking

Jed:

about the design of future choice programs such that, you know, we can

Jed:

actually get more of the low income African American and Latino kids?

Jed:

I mean, it seems to me as though the way that we design ESAs and

Jed:

vouchers really matters a lot, and we're at this moment where a lot

Jed:

of new ones are getting approved.

Jed:

I also think there are new things that we can be doing in terms of,

Jed:

you know, stimulating the creation of charter schools that would actually

Jed:

be attractive to a larger percentage of middle class and white parents.

Jed:

It just hasn't historically been a huge focus for us.

Jed:

What are you thinking about, you know, the right things to be focusing

Jed:

on terms of getting the right mix of choice and competition right now?

David:

Yeah, there are tradeoffs.

David:

I think my personal view is that, if you funded it only a fraction

David:

of what we spend on schools, right?

David:

Then you're inevitably going to get middle class parents who are sort of just

David:

topping off their private tuition, right?

David:

So my personal view is that I would rather have a smaller

David:

program that's fully funded, right?

David:

So that everybody can take advantage of it.

David:

In other words, I want, you know, the full cost of the private school

David:

or the charter or whatever it is, to be covered so that somebody doesn't

David:

have to be sort of glancing at their wallet when they're thinking about

David:

school choice in an ideal world, right.

David:

We would have, you know, a universal progressively weighted voucher that

David:

gets taken everywhere, and, you know, we would have to engage in a thousand and

David:

one conversations about regulation and testing and all sorts of things like that.

David:

That's probably where we're headed in 2050, right.

David:

But there's a lot of grounded cover between there and where we are right now.

David:

So, I think that's the most obvious trade off for me, right, is at a political

David:

level, I think there's a lot to be said for getting more folks inside the tent,

David:

and I think that the school choice movement has paid a price, politically,

David:

for the fact that it's often viewed as a way of helping black and brown kids.

David:

At the same time, I think that the more thinly we spread whatever dollars

David:

we're talking about, the less access, real world access traditionally

David:

disadvantaged communities are going to have to these alternatives.

David:

So there's a real trade off there.

Andy:

Can we pause?

Jed:

I'm sorry, what?

Andy:

We just have to pause just for a second.

Andy:

I think this does not, the perverse irony that the movement is seen as

Andy:

disproportionately benefiting Black and Hispanic kids by White people who have,

Andy:

for the most part, been able to find ways around the problems of public schools,

Andy:

either by where they live or sending their kids to private school, hectoring the

Andy:

rest of us about how much they actually care about black and hispanic kids, while

Andy:

the system continues to underserve them.

Andy:

It's sort of a really perverse puzzle that I think we just have to like,

Andy:

and again, some of it I think shows up in this report is politically just

Andy:

pause on, I mean, we could do a whole, we'd be here all afternoon talking

Andy:

about all the sort of perversities in our political discourse right now.

Andy:

But that is one that's like hard.

Andy:

It is hard to miss.

Andy:

And I We almost say it like it's unremarkable, but it's like, if you stop

Andy:

and think about it, it's very unusual.

Jed:

Well, andy, let me ask you, you asked me a question, I'll put one back to you.

Jed:

So, I mean, What do you think?

Jed:

So the mode of all charter folk is keep our heads low as, you

Jed:

know, Republicans are doing their universal voucher stuff right now.

Jed:

And that's what we did in Arizona, and now we're on the other side, and the charter

Jed:

people are coming back to the association and saying, wait a second, this voucher

Jed:

design program, it's simply not fair.

Jed:

Right.

Jed:

And it's not, it's not skewed toward advantage, advantage in the advantage.

Jed:

So what is your thought here?

Jed:

Should we be like charging into buzzsaws and asserting our concerns?

Jed:

As these things are being considered, or do we keep our heads low, get, you know,

Jed:

say that there's actually some progress if there is more choice that's created,

Jed:

and then after the fact, go in and try and refine the programs, you know, once

Jed:

they're up and going, do you have any, I mean, do you have any thoughts on

Jed:

what's the right thing to be doing here?

Andy:

Yeah, the answer is I don't know, because it is situational, I think it's

Andy:

place by place, and we should acknowledge we're in a very sort of transitory time

Andy:

in terms of how we deliver education.

Andy:

So like the charter schools had a huge adverse impact on the Catholic schools.

Andy:

Some people were very concerned about that, some people were indifferent to it.

Andy:

Some people thought that was good.

Andy:

But like it was clear it was an impact.

Andy:

And if you think the Catholic schools were sort of an important part of the community

Andy:

provided a good option, did a good job on character education or whatever,

Andy:

that was a concern, but it didn't stop us from having charter schools.

Andy:

And I feel like it's these programs.

Andy:

It's one on one.

Andy:

I think it's going to like in different places.

Andy:

It's going to Okay, we're going to have a chance to come in and refine where

Andy:

there's problems and others, we may not.

Andy:

And so when that negotiation is actually happening, you need to be at the table.

Andy:

I think it's I'd be very leery to have some unified field theory, maybe David

Andy:

does, but it just seems very situational.

Andy:

This is very situational to me in different places in different context.

Andy:

And we just have to acknowledge there will be it.

Andy:

trade offs.

Andy:

Part of the problem with the whole dialogue is every trade

Andy:

off just gets weaponized, but this is, that's just policy 101.

Andy:

There's going to be trade offs to these different approaches.

Andy:

David, do you want to, do you have a unified field theory

Andy:

on how we should handle this?

David:

I don't have a unified field theory.

David:

yeah, I think, in my experience, right, the average traditional public

David:

school teacher cares authentically about just, you know, traditionally

David:

disadvantaged kids, right?

David:

And I think that's Why we have a hard time getting through to people is

David:

because that's so manifestly the case if you talk to real world teachers as

David:

actual parents do the institutional incentives are hugely problematic, right?

David:

So you think about the fight for example, you know, funding

David:

equity within districts, right?

David:

I mean, arguably it's a totally rational thing to do if you're most worried about

David:

losing kids at the high end, right?

David:

the kids who might go to private schools, well of course you're going

David:

to put more money towards the schools that are trying to keep those kids.

David:

Right?

David:

So, you know, I think part of the challenge is that so much of this

David:

operates in the realm of market theory and economics, and, the average

David:

person's experience of school, and the average person's experience

David:

of teachers is very different.

David:

So, I don't know.

David:

I'm going to leave the politics to you guys, in all honesty.

David:

So, I'm a researcher.

David:

I appreciate your Bringing me into this wonderful political

David:

dialogue, but I am not the expert.

Andy:

Yeah, I think, well, I think it's hard.

Andy:

I don't think there's a clear answer.

Andy:

I think it's more just how do you, I do think people care a great deal, in the

Andy:

abstract and they care a great deal with the kids right in front of them, there's

Andy:

a gap and you look at the system again and again, you see that gap sort of,

Andy:

how do we translate this at any scale?

Andy:

So like, I mean, some of the divisions in your report I'm familiar with

Andy:

and like I don't think it's a lack of caring in the central office.

Andy:

They just have different priorities.

Andy:

They care about public relations, they care about the story

Andy:

that they're going to tell.

Andy:

They don't want competition.

Andy:

Yeah.

Andy:

And so I don't know that caring is the right as a political matter.

Andy:

We need to have the debate on those other terms.

David:

Yeah, when I talk to the average D.

David:

C.

David:

Democrat, right, they're remarkably convincible, but I think a lot

David:

of the way motivated reasoning works that people don't realize is

David:

it's about attention bias, right?

David:

People just don't seem, they don't think about this, right?

David:

They care about climate change, they care about whatever, right?

David:

They don't realize that the fact that education isn't at, you know, for poor

David:

kids isn't at the top of their agenda, is itself a manifestation of, sort

David:

of the conversation that they've been a part of what they're swimming in.

David:

And so the first thing you have to do is assert like, look,

David:

no, this matters a lot, right?

David:

You care about this.

David:

You say you care about this right now, think about it for a second.

David:

And so I I don't know, I have any big answer except you take them one at a

David:

time and you try and change their minds.

Andy:

And I think also this idea, Jed knows this, like, how do we

Andy:

get people to realize, and Jed I know you want to talk about this,

Andy:

that this lifts all boats because.

Andy:

if it's either portrayed as a zero sum or people think it's any kind

Andy:

of a zero sum, and that was one of the lessons out of Massachusetts,

Andy:

they're not going to be with you.

Andy:

And so it has to be part of like a broad opportunity oriented agenda

Andy:

that people see, like this isn't going to, this doesn't carry like

Andy:

a huge cost for me, even if it carries great benefits for others.

Jed:

Yeah, it depends on what sea, you know, we think boats are rising on

Jed:

and one of them could be on academic performance and you named David some of

Jed:

the other ones we could be thinking about.

Jed:

But I also think there's just a fairness and allocation of educational opportunity

Jed:

in more equitable ways and allocation of resources in more fair ways too.

Jed:

And, you know, I think the way that we keep people's attention on things is by

Jed:

focusing on ourselves and having policy agendas that reflect it, you know, it just

Jed:

drives me crazy that a place like Newark.

Jed:

We know what Newark is doing.

Jed:

The charter schools are growing and they're and the charter schools of

Jed:

Newark are doing a phenomenal job, right?

Jed:

The district feels the work.

Jed:

competitive pressure.

Jed:

What does it do?

Jed:

It makes a bunch of new selective admissions magnets, you know, and

Jed:

then it sucks and puts a ton of money into the selective admissions magnets.

Jed:

And then we've got, you know, a lot of schools where a large number of kids

Jed:

are in schools that are abjectly worse than as bad as any we've ever had.

Jed:

And we stand here And don't articulate that this is in fact happening.

Jed:

And so, yet again, another generation has found a new way to screw over the

Jed:

kids that need better education more.

Jed:

And I think, you know, it's a moment where all advocates, and yes, I think

Jed:

the charter school world, we need to take our share of naming that these

Jed:

things are happening and naming policy proposals that we think would make

Jed:

the situation better than it is.

Andy:

So, david, question for you.

Andy:

I mean, you can listen to us, jed and I get me frustrated at the

Andy:

unfairness of it all, all day.

Andy:

Like question for you, what surprised you with this?

Andy:

I mean, part of the fun of doing this work is like, often you're rolling

Andy:

up things empirically that you kind of either knew already empirically or

Andy:

intuitively, but then you come across something that sort of totally surprises

Andy:

whatever your ingoing hypothesis was.

Andy:

So for you, as you did this work, what are some things that

Andy:

surprised you that you found out?

David:

I was surprised by just how little private school choice had changed.

David:

Um, I expected.

David:

Uh, charter schools to be the dominant story in many of these places, and it

David:

was basically the only story, you know, I should caveat that by saying that

David:

the data we have for homeschooling and for private schooling is not quite as

David:

solid as the data for charter schools.

David:

Nevertheless, I really thought there would be some districts where, you

David:

know, you were seeing like some of the growth was driven by, you

David:

know, vouchers or private schools or whatever for the decade we looked at.

David:

That really wasn't the case.

David:

I'm sure that if we looked at say Milwaukee, you know, a couple of decades

David:

back, we would see that, but this decade was almost exclusively a story of charter

David:

school growth, and that surprised me.

David:

It may not be true for the coming decade.

David:

Um, but it was true for the one that just happened.

Jed:

Well, David, this is great research in general.

Jed:

And you know, I'm eager to see what you're going to do next.

Andy:

And, what are you going to do next?

Andy:

We pause on that for a second.

Andy:

You said something earlier.

Andy:

We're talking about some things I want to dig into.

Andy:

Is this, is there more to come?

Andy:

Give us a preview.

David:

Well, there's always more to come.

David:

We've got some great reports coming out in the next few months.

David:

I'll just say, that, you know, I always think about school choice.

David:

And, we're also thinking about accountability these days because we feel

David:

like, we've been on vacation for too long.

David:

So Fordham is looking for a way to restart the conversation around accountability,

David:

not necessarily meaning go back to no No Child Left Behind, I don't think

David:

anybody wants to do that, right.

David:

But trying to get our hands around the issue with attendance, the issues

David:

with great inflation, the issues with all these cultural shocks that

David:

happened as a result of the pandemic that we're now trying to unwind and

David:

get back to, you know, like holding kids and ourselves to high standards

David:

and sort of insisting on excellence.

David:

So, um, those are the big themes of the things that we're going to be

David:

coming out with in the next couple of years, I think, and we're just

David:

going to keep beating those drums.

Andy:

Excellent.

Jed:

Eager to see it.

Jed:

Share it with us when we got it, and we'll have you back for another conversation.

Jed:

This has been really great, David.

David:

I would love to come back.

David:

It's so nice to show you my baby grand back there, and you guys are a lot of fun.

David:

Thanks for having me.

Andy:

Hey, thanks.

Andy:

Appreciate it.

Andy:

Thanks for being here.

Jed:

Great.

Jed:

Well, Andy, we'll, uh, we'll wrap up for now and, you know, we'll

Jed:

hopefully get one more recording in before the end of the year, but

Jed:

we'll wrap up from here, I think.

Andy:

Thanks, Chad.

Andy:

I'll see you soon.

Jed:

Okay.

Jed:

See you guys.

Jed:

Thanks so much.

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